Taking the Eminent Domain Fight to City Hall

As Dallas-area attorney Matthew Marchant writes in the Dallas Morning News, citizens concerned about the (ab)use of eminent domain need not feel helpless in the wake of SCOTUS’s Kelo vs. New London decision. They can start to address the issue by taking the fight to City Hall:

Fortunately, citizens across Texas can have the last laugh on this matter. Most cities in Texas are governed by a charter, which grants and limits the powers the municipality may exercise. Among those is the power of eminent domain, which can be limited or expanded by charter amendment. The city of Carrollton did just that in 1998, adding language to its charter prohibiting the use of eminent domain if the purpose of the acquisition is the promotion of economic development for a private business enterprise. This charter amendment was passed in part as a reaction to Hurst’s use of eminent domain to acquire 10 homes for the expansion of Northeast Mall. In that case, 117 homeowners had to be relocated in order to accommodate the expansion of the mall, which city officials deemed a “public purpose.” At the time it was a risky and controversial move; now such action has the stamp of approval from none other than the Supreme Court. Cities in Collin County and across Texas should consider and adopt charter amendments similar to what was passed in Carrollton in order to curb the enthusiasm of your local officials with regard to eminent domain for economic development. Power such as this has a way of creeping and expanding as the years wear on.

As Tip O’Neill famously said, “all politics is local.” While it’s encouraging that Congress has taken notice of the eminent domain issue, I strongly believe that in the long run it’s closer to home — the state and local arena — where the constraints on the power of eminent domain need to be more concretely defined.